Increasingly, irrigation infrastructure upgrades have been regarded in global policy as a solution for both water scarcity and low agricultural productivity. However, these technical "fixes" may ultimately prove to be dangerous shortcuts that do little to address the concerns of irrigators, Indigenous People, environmental groups, and local communities about water scarcity, access, security, and sustainability. In the absence of transparent and rigorous governance safeguards, irrigation efficiency upgrades can result in higher water consumption, demand, and ultimately, increased water scarcity. Upgraded irrigation systems also tend to capture return flows and redistribute them to "high value" consumptive water uses, potentially displacing other users and uses, including Indigenous Peoples. In this article, we critique current approaches to governing irrigation efficiency, using a water justice lens to identify four key insights and their implications for governance. We propose new governance pathways and options that take into consideration hydrological realities and the full range of water demands and needs. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Water Governance Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented.